October 16, 2009

NAE Addresses Political Issues at D.C. Policy Forum

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), purporting to represent 40 denominations and 20 million church goers, convened its annual political seminar in early October, emphasizing support for liberalized immigration laws but also addressing issues such as nuclear disarmament.

NAE’s Leaders Forum aims to “bring together leaders to discuss critical issues facing the nation and the Church.” The Forum plenary speakers were JoAnne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church and founder of World Hope International; Michael Gerson, former speechwriter and policy adviser to President George W. Bush and current Senior Fellow at the Center on Faith and International Affairs; and Luis Lugo, Director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The forum came on the heels of two significant events for the NAE. Two days before the seminar, the NAE’s board released “Immigration 2009,” a resolution that calls evangelical churches to support loosening current U.S. immigration policies. Recently NAE officials have stressed the growth of evangelical Latino churches in their new push to change immigration laws. According to Galen Carey, NAE Government Affairs Director, the resolution “will be an important step forward in evangelical advocacy on behalf of immigrants, many of whom are members of evangelical churches across the United States.”

Following the resolution’s release, NAE President Leith Anderson testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship, earning praise from committee chair and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. In an interview, Anderson commented on why immigration should be a concern for evangelicals: “[T]here are many, many immigrants in evangelical churches, so they are us. Immigrants have become the growth edge of evangelical churches and denominations.” (For further coverage of the NAE’s resolution, see Jeff Walton’s article.)

Among the forum’s “critical issues facing the nation and the Church” were immigration, the environment, evangelism, church finances, poverty, nuclear terrorism, sexuality, and marriage. Different issue sessions were sponsored by groups that NAE seemingly supports. But the NAE asserted that the views expressed during the issue sessions did not necessarily represent those of the NAE and that the track sponsors were responsible for the content of their sessions.

One NAE issue session, “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Why Christians Matter,” was sponsored by the Two Futures Project (2FP), which seeks to abolish all nuclear weapons.  Also participating in the track was Alistair Millar, Co-Director of the Center on Global Counterterrorism Corporation. In his presentation, 2FP Founder and Director Tyler Wigg-Stevenson argued for the necessity of nuclear arms reduction and the crucial role that Christians can and should play in that process.

Wigg-Stevenson’s organization asserts two possible scenarios for the future.  One is a world without nuclear weapons.  The other is a world in which they have been used. “The choice,” Wigg-Stevenson said, “is disarmament or seeing a morally unacceptable outcome.” Wigg-Stevenson argues that, taken together, this situation along with the biblical admonition against “the killing of innocents” should lead Christians to support nuclear disarmament. Two Futures Project (2FP) advocates that the U.S. completely renounce nuclear weapons and envisions global nuclear disarmament.

The event coincided with President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize for, in part, his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” Consequently, the Wigg-Stevenson’s presentation took on increased relevance.  Responding to Obama’s victory, Wigg-Stevenson said that Obama’s victory “highlights the importance of setting the goal to guide our steps in the short term as we seek to shape a more secure world. To prevent nuclear terrorism, we must make progress toward the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. A new generation needs to deal once and for all with the legacy of the Cold War.”

In a comment that reflected both a desire to frame nuclear disarmament as a bipartisan issue and the erstwhile prominence of the NAE, Anderson said, “I first heard the call for a world free of nuclear weapons from President Reagan when he addressed the National Association of Evangelicals over twenty-five years ago. The Nobel prize for President Obama acknowledges and perpetuates the Reagan vision.”

If the NAE does take a position in favor of nuclear disarmament, it is likely that they will situate it in the “culture of life” argument that is often used to justify opposition to war and the death penalty. Plenary speaker JoAnne Lyon previewed this line of reasoning when she said, “The work to reduce the nuclear threat and abolish nuclear weapons is a moral issue that stands at the center of the call to be pro-life. It is the goal that all American Christians, regardless of party, can and should support.”

In an issue session called “Sex, Life & the Church,” NAE staffer Aaron Mercer led a panel discussion that previewed “Theology of Sex,” a paper to be released later this fall. Participating in the discussion were Wheaton College professor Stanton Jones and George Fox University sociology professor Lisa McMinn. Both speakers identified a need for a robust theology of sex that addresses the many dimensions of human sexuality. Further, both argued that such a framework is a necessary feature of a church that is equipped to respond to questions concerning sexuality, marriage, and bioethics.  Of particular focus for the panel and those attending the session was the connection between human sexuality and the sanctity of life, a reflection of the NAE’s awareness of the importance of the sanctity of life to its base.

In his presentation, entitled “The Changing American Religious Landscape,” Luis Lugo of the Pew Forum described the changing demographics of American religious life. Americans claiming affiliation to an “Evangelical Protestant Church” constitute 26.3% of the population, making it the largest religious category in the survey. He also emphasized the increase in foreign born, especially Latino Christians. This increase has primarily affected the Catholic Church and offset its recent losses among native born Americans.

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